The last gift U-M medical students honor those who donate bodies


 Ann Arbor, Mich. - It is only by going deep under the skin that medical students can truly grasp the intricacies of the human body - something that medical educator Casey White knows is vital to training physicians.

White, Ph.D., U-M's assistant dean for medical education, plans to join medical students today, as they honor those who have donated their bodies to the University of Michigan Medical School. The annual student-led service begins at 2 p.m. at Washtenong Memorial Park.

At this year's service, White honors not only the 300 or so people whose bodies are used each year to further medical study and research. She also honors her father.
"Shortly after my mother died and was cremated in 2002, my father gave me a letter he had recently written. The letter said that - when he passed - he wanted his body to be donated to the UM Medical School," White says.
"He was very proud of the work that we do educating future physicians, and he wanted to contribute to that in some meaningful way."
Peter Anthony Kirchoff, White's father, died unexpectedly in April 2009. He was 89, just shy of his 90th birthday. This year, six of U-M's beginning medical students will gain intimate knowledge of human anatomy using his body.
"I'm so proud of him, it's a great gift," says White. "He knew what I do at my job, and he wanted the medical students to have the remains."
White addressed the 170 medical students in this year's gross anatomy class in late August, telling them a bit about her father. That he loved a good joke and a cold Smithwick's ale. That he served his country in World War II. That he loved his family, and moved to Ann Arbor in his retirement so he could watch his grandson grow up.
"We loved our father beyond words, and although we will hold our memories of him in our hearts forever, we now pass his body on to you," White told the students.
"They kept clapping and clapping and clapping," White says about the reaction from the students.
That's the reason for the annual service, says Thomas Gest, Ph.D., director of U-M's Anatomical Donations Program. They need to know this is not just a body - it was somebody's mom, brother, child or friend, Gest says.
"All of our donors are thinking ‘How can I do one last thing?' " Gest says. "It's unbelievable charity."
Gest says the annual ceremony is student-led, and features medical students who volunteer to play instruments and sing in a choir. A handful of students address those gathered, usually about 800 people.
The U-M's Anatomical Donations Program receives approximately 300 whole body donations each year. The donors are with the school for about a year and then the ashes are either returned to the familiy or they are buried at Washtenong Park.
Bequests are greatly appreciated. For more information about the program, call 734-764-4359>

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